With the substitution of Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass in the late 1950s, Brubeck formed the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet, which performed unchanged for almost ten years. Len Lyons and Don Perlo, in their book Jazz Portraits: The Lives and Music of the Jazz Masters, described the basic elements of the quartet's music: "Fuguelike interplay among the instruments; clear (sometimes simplistic) thematic statements; excursions into polytonality; and a tight group sound." This definitive Dave Brubeck Quartet sound also bore the mark of irregular time signatures. Brubeck's belief that "new and complex rhythm patterns, more akin to the African parents, is the natural direction for jazz to develop," as he wrote in Down Beat, was fully realized on his famous 1959 recording, Time Out, which featured the hits "Take Five" (in 5/4 meter) and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" (in 9/8 meter). "Take Five" was so well received that it even made the popular music charts, unheard of for an instrumental jazz recording. Time Out went on to become the first instrumental jazz album certified gold.
The quartet continued to record and tour successfully until 1967, when Brubeck decided to disband the group to fully concentrate on composing sacred music and jazz-influenced symphonic works. Among his compositions is the cantata Truth Is Fallen, commissioned in 1971 and dedicated "to the slain students of Kent State University and Jackson State, and all other innocent victims caught in the cross fire between repression and rebellion," Leonard Feather noted in his book The Pleasures of Jazz.
But Brubeck couldn't stay away from the quartet format and the improvisational element of jazz. "Jazz stands for freedom," he told Duncan of the Christian Science Monitor. "It's supposed to be the voice of freedom: Get out there and improvise, and take chances." Since the early 1970s, Brubeck has recorded and toured with his quartet composed of various musicians, including a combination of his sons, and labeled Two Generations of Brubeck. Although not quite the force he was in the 1950s and 1960s, Brubeck continued to produce vital music, as Stereo Review's Chris Albertson attested to in a review of Brubeck's 1986 offering, Reflections, stating that "the album only partly reflects the past: the present is also strongly represented, and the blend is good…. There was always a lyrical side to Brubeck, and that - as several selections here demonstrate - is an aspect of his music that time has enhanced."
Brubeck's mother studied piano in England and intended to become a concert pianist; at home she taught piano for extra money. Brubeck was not particularly interested in learning by any particular method, but preferred to create his own melodies, and therefore avoided learning to read sheet music. In college Brubeck was nearly expelled when one of his professors discovered that he could not read sheet music. Several of his professors came forward arguing for his ability with counterpoint and harmony, but the school was still afraid that it would cause a scandal, and only agreed to let Brubeck graduate once he promised never to teach piano. After graduating from the University of the Pacific in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the army and served overseas in George Patton's Third Army during the Battle of the Bulge. He played in a band, quickly integrating it and gaining both popularity and deference. He returned to college after serving nearly 4 years in the army, this time attending Mills College and studying under Darius Milhaud, who encouraged him to study fugue and orchestration but not classical piano. (Oddly enough, most critics consider Brubeck something of a classical pianist playing jazz.)
Dave Brubeck Quartet - Unisphere
Dave Brubeck (p), Paul Desmond (as), Eugene Wright (b), Joe Morello (d). Helsinki, October 6, 1964.